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Published March 06, 2013, 10:38 AM

Annual International Sugarbeet Institute set for March 13 and 14

Sugar beets are an agricultural cornerstone of the Red River Valley of eastern North Dakota and western Montana. It’s no coincidence that the International Sugarbeet Institute, billed as North America’s largest sugar beet trade show, is held each year in the heart of the Red River Valley.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

Sugar beets are an agricultural cornerstone of the Red River Valley of eastern North Dakota and western Montana.

It’s no coincidence that the International Sugarbeet Institute, billed as North America’s largest sugar beet trade show, is held each year in the heart of the Red River Valley.

“We aren’t real heavy on program,” says Don Lilleboe, one of the event’s organizers. “We have a keynote speaker every day (and) those are well attended, but our emphasis is really on providing a venue for companies in the sugar beet sector to talk with farmers.”

“It’s just a good venue for people to come together and get an update on what’s hot, what’s new,” he says.

This year’s event, the 51st, will be held March 13 and 14 at the Fargodome in Fargo, N.D.

An estimated 3,000 to 4,000 people will attend. At least 125 companies will display roughly $5 million of products and equipment, including self-propelled beet harvesters.

Every exhibitor will have a connection to the sugar beet industry.

The event opens at 9 a.m. both days. Doors close at 5 p.m. March 13 and mid-afternoon March 14.

Admission is free. Parking costs $3, according to the Fargdodome website.

Keynote speakers

At 1:15 p.m. March 13, Luther Markwart will speak on the sugar industry’s challenges and opportunities this year.

He’s executive vice president of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association.

At 10:10 a.m. March 14, Howard Dahl will speak on what the sugar beet industry will be like in five years.

He’s president and CEO of Fargo-based Amity Technology, which produces sugar beet equipment. It’s also involved in seeding, tillage and soil sampling equipment.

Harvesters to check out

Several self-propelled beet harvesters will be exhibited at the event, says Bob Cournia, exhibit coordinator for the show.

“They’re quite popular in Europe,” but are just beginning to catch on in the United States, he says.

Self-propelled beet harvesters have been tested and demonstrated in the Red River Valley, but it’s uncertain if one has been purchased and used by a farmer there, he says.

A self-propelled harvester increases efficiency by eliminating the need for a tractor and reducing the amount of manpower required in fields, he says.

Among other exhibits at this year’s show: a Michigan company will present a new way of defoliating sugar beet leaves.

The exhibits will feature a number of new products, especially ones using advanced technology.

“If you stand still, you don’t go anywhere,” Cournia says.

Overall, the Red River Valley enjoyed a good sugar beet harvest in 2012.

On the downside, poor harvest conditions caused big problems for some growers in the northern Red River Valley, he says.

“Sugar beets are harvested across a big area is the valley,” so it’s not uncommon for unfavorable weather to hurt at least some producers, he says.

A little history

The event began in 1963 as a special seminar in the Red River Valley Winter Shows Arena in Crookston, Minn. It later became a two-day trade show and educational seminar, according to information from the Institute.

Its original name was the Sugar Beet Grower’s Seminar. The “International” was added in 1980, when Manitoba sugar growers joined in. The Institute continues to attract international visitors, as well as attendees from across the country, although most of the people who attend are from the Upper Midwest.

The Institute was held for many years at the Crookston arena. The adjacent Crookston National Guard Armory was used for the educational and information seminar held concurrently with the trade show. The Institute now alternates between the Fargodome and the Alerus Center in Grand Forks, N.D.

Over time, the number companies that manufacture sugar beet equipment has declined, which means fewer exhibits. But the size and cost of equipment has soared.

Many U.S. political leaders have attended the event through the years. The list includes Tom Foley, a former Washington congressman, according to information from the Institute.

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